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Brexit hits house sales but Brits still biggest buyers

British house-hunters are still the most active non-resident foreign buyers in France but numbers have fallen since the 2016 Brexit vote and the pound’s slump against the euro.

They have been the biggest foreign investors in French real estate over the last 10 years but there has been a fall in the numbers living outside France who have opted to buy a second home here.

Britons bought 67% of property sold to foreign nationals between 2007 and 2017, excluding purchases by British people living in France, figures from Notaires de France showed.

But between 2015 and 2017, there was an 8% drop in the percentage of Britons choosing France for a second home. In 2015, UK buyers made up 34% of foreign non-resident buyers but by 2017 this had fallen to 26%.

Notaire Thierry Delesalle, one of the authors of the report, said: “Brexit is one thing but the main decider for the majority of people, whether buying or selling, is the exchange rate.

“We saw in 2007-8, when we went to the property show in the UK and the pound was tumbling, that people sold up, everybody was selling.

“Having said that, I am told by many of my colleagues that since Brexit there are also British people who are buying in France – in Europe – with the aim perhaps, if their children speak French, of allowing them to stay European.

“It is happening in province, in the regions, and they are not buying holiday homes, they are coming to live.

“I know someone who produces smoked salmon and, with 90% of his business in Europe, he has decided to buy in France and set up here to maintain his business.”

Overall, between 2007 and 2017 there was a downturn in the number of foreign buyers in the French market. In 2017, they made 5.4% of total property transactions, a gradual decline from 6.5% in 2007 – although this recovered to 5.9% at the start of last year,  including 10% in Ile-de-France. 

Britain, Belgium and Germany were responsible for just over half of all property bought by foreign nationals living outside France in 2017.

In Île-de-France, British investment is slightly more stable.

Despite a 2% dip between 2015 and 2016, in 2017 the number of properties acquired by British returned to 7% of sales to non-resident foreigners.

Favourite spots for second home owners are still Creuse, Dordogne and Alpes-Maritimes.

In the last 10 years, just over 10% of property purchased in these areas has been by foreigners living outside France. However, in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, the amount of property bought by foreign nationals living outside France dropped from 5.1% in 2016 to 3.9% in 2017.

Demand for second homes in both Alpes-Maritimes and Creuse also fell at the start of last year.  

Typically, British buyers choose older French houses with at least six rooms, the report says.

More than three-quarters (77%) of property bought between 2007 and 2017 was old houses, and half of them were in rural areas.

Mr Delesalle said this posed another problem, as there has been a slight increase in the number of Britons who are looking to sell.

In 2015, 32% of foreign-owned property on the market belonged to British people living outside France, a figure which climbed to 34% in 2017 – but the properties they were selling were “typically British properties”, he said. “If you are in Eymet in Dordogne and you are selling only to Britons, you have a market that is smaller.

“But if your property is suitable for French people, then the market is large. British buyers have come in and restored ruins, even whole villages, but that is not what the majority French buyer wants, it is a British thing.”

Mr Delesalle said recent months have seen an increase in interest from UK-based buyers.

“Property website SeLoger said it had noted a 75% rise in inquiries from London IP addresses over the past three months,” he said.

SeLoger said more than half of the ads being checked were in Ile-de-France, with 28% for Paris alone, but there was also a rise in interest in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur as well as in Nord-Pas-de-Calais.

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